Reflections on the Roof

Brancussi, Noguchi and Nevelson are names synonymous with Modern sculpture. Contemporary figures include Serra, Bourgeois and Goldsworthy. Some of their best works are represented at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. On a recent visit there I had the chance to examine and compare many fine pieces. Some were old favorites while others were new to me.

Andy Goldsworthy's "Roof" is on the ground level of the East Building. It's an outdoor sculpture viewed only through glass walls from two levels inside the building. A portion of the work jumps the glass barrier onto the lobby floor. The plate glass slices through two of the nine, dry-stacked, hollow domes. Overall I found it to be a compelling piece, but with reservations.

The radical integration with the building (an elegant design by architect I.M. Pei) was an unsuccessful illusion, to my eye. The two interior bumps look forlorn by themselves and remind me of shopping mall decoration. A better example of the intended effect would be the the way one of Noguchi 's sculpture is displayed at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City. There, only the base of the piece shares indoor-outdoor space. My second criticism of the piece has to do with a small detail in the finish. The edge-facing of the Buckingham Virginia slate was natural-cleft (either as it came from the quarry or broken into preferred shapes by the craftsmen) except in a very few places where it was trimmed with a cut-off saw after the construction was completed. I'm guessing that the artist saw a bump in the line of the dome profile that made him unhappy and had it "fixed" by sawing off the offending bits. The contrast between the two edge finishes is subtle but noticeable. Once I saw it I could not stop seeing it. The attempt to improve the piece had in the end the opposite effect.

Kudos to the four UK dry stone wallers who crafted the sculpture. Slate is a difficult stone to work due to its tendency to shatter and fracture when being trimmed and split. The craftsmen took the material to its limits in this construction. They're to be commended for their outstanding achievement.